This Pet Sematary article contains major spoilers.
Stephen King once called the brutal 1983 novel Pet Sematary his scariest book, and in this new age of King adaptations, that means this dark story gets a remake. A modern retelling of the book King wrote in 1978 and then shoved into a drawer because he thought it was too grim (even for him!), Pet Sematary checks off several of our favorite horror tropes: spooky houses, killer kids, conniving cats, ancient burial grounds, and lots of murder. Needless to say, we quite liked the movie.
While this new version of the story sticks closely to the events of the book, with a couple of nods to Mary Lambert’s 1989 movie, the 2019 movie veers in a completely different direction midway through its runtime that will surprise some audience members. Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and screenwriter Jeff Buhler have made a big change to the story that turns the movie on its head.
Little Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) must breathe a sigh of relief as his father, Louis (Jason Clarke), spares him from the terrible fate that befalls him both in the original book and the 1989 movie. Just as the Orinco truck speeds down the road outside the Creed house on Ellie’s birthday, Louis comes to the rescue of his son, pulling him away from danger. But the birthday girl isn’t so lucky. No one can save the older Creed child from what’s to come…
Indeed, it’s Ellie who dies in the infamous truck scene while Gage gets to live…at least for now. Much of what happens next is the same as in the book, though. Louis, grief-stricken and determined to spend a little more time with his beloved daughter, decides to use the ancient burial ground beyond the pet sematary to bring back Ellie. But what Louis hopes will be a new start for his broken family quickly becomes a nightmare. (It’s bewildering that he thinks this is going to turn out any different than with Church the Cat, who goes from cute fur baby to scheming murder cat after his own twisted resurrection.)
Ellie returns, clearly changed after spending a few days six feet under, and begins her murder spree. Like her brother Gage in the earlier versions of the story, Ellie equips his father’s scalpel and walks over to Jud Crandall’s (an excellent John Lithgow) for a visit. In a neat nod from the 1989 movie, Ellie slices through Jud’s Achilles tendon, although she’s not waiting for him under the bed. This time, she strikes from below the staircase, sending Jud crashing down to the first floor.
The undead girl isn’t happy with just finishing off her old buddy, though. First, she torments him with the face of his deceased wife, Norma, before stabbing him to death. Jud pays in the end for revealing the dark secrets of the woods beyond the Creed house.
Meanwhile, Rachel (Amy Seimetz), who goes to stay with her parents with Gage after the funeral, has had enough of the inconsequential Zelda subplot this movie spends way too much time exploring with zero payoff (Rachel’s demons are handled much better in the book) and rushes back to Ludlow to find her undead daughter waiting for the rest of the Creeds. The reunion doesn’t go well.
Ellie lures Louis out of the house so that she can hunt her mother and brother. When Louis returns from Jud’s house, where he finds the old man brutally murdered, Rachel is already lowering Gage from a bedroom window. As Louis catches his son, Rachel is stabbed through the back by Ellie, killing her. After locking Gage in the family car — not a great idea — Louis runs back in the house to try and save his fatally wounded wife, only to be knocked unconscious by Ellie.
Things take another unexpected turn in the story, as we watch Ellie drag her dead mother through the woods and past the pet sematary, burying her in the cursed pit that proves that “sometimes, dead is better.” In the book and 1989 movie, Louis manages to kill Gage with a lethal injection after the boy kills his mother. Louis then buries Rachel in woods in the hopes that she’ll come back as she was before. His theory is that burying his wife so quickly will somehow save her from becoming a monster like Church and Gage. Things don’t quite turn out that way, but more on that in a second.
When Louis comes to in the 2019 movie, he quickly rushes to the pet sematary where he’s met by Ellie. Their final showdown almost turns out in Louis’ favor. The father is on the verge of sending his daughter back to the grave when he is suddenly impaled by undead Rachel. Mother and daughter then drag the father to join their new twisted version of the family.
Like the book, the movie ends with little hope of redemption for Louis, now resurrected and walking alongside his wife and daughter to the car where Gage quietly awaits his fate. Finally, the Creeds are together again.
It’s hard to say which ending is more depressing. King’s novel ends with an undead Rachel returning home and putting a cold hand on a relieved Louis’ shoulder. He thinks things are going to turn out differently the third time around, but we all know they won’t. This second chance will only end with more death.
Say what you will about the jump scares, gore, and supernatural forces waiting in Ludlow’s woods, what truly makes Pet Sematary King’s scariest book is the absolute lack of hope of its ending. Sometimes, we don’t get second chances. And when we do, we might wish we hadn’t. Louis has suffered through the very worst trauma a parent could ever face and there’s nothing he can do to fix it. Fade to black.